Though Alta Ski Area is the second-oldest ski resort in Utah, by many accounts, it is the state’s—and perhaps the entire United States’—most environmentally conscious as well. Accolades this skiers-only resort has received over the years for its sustainability efforts range from achieving LEED Silver certification for its skier services building to being recognized for environmental leadership by Utah Business magazine.
Alta has participated in the National Ski Areas Association’s (NSAA) Climate Challenge—a voluntary program dedicated to helping participating ski areas inventory, target and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—since it began in 2011. And then in 2022, Alta received the ski industry’s highest honor in the realm of sustainability, NSAA’s Golden Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence. Of course, becoming a leader in anything requires time and perseverance, and so to understand the depth of Alta’s commitment to the environment, it’s necessary to look at this mountain resort’s beginnings, which occurred long before the advent of skiing.
Like many other mountain towns across the West, the town of Alta got its start soon after silver ore was discovered deep in the ground there in the 1860s. The mining boom—and eventual bust—that commenced left scars on the land, both visible as those not as apparent. In 2008, to mitigate the mining era’s lingering impacts—as well as manage present-day recreational visitation and limit its overall carbon footprint—Alta Ski Area formed the Alta Environmental Center (AEC). A cornerstone of AEC’s efforts is pursuing an impressive volume of land conservation and restoration programs, many of which pre-date the formation of the AEC. For example, since 1991 more than 40,000 tree seedlings and upwards of 70,000 plants have been planted within the Alta Ski Area’s boundary—all of which were grown from seeds collected on the same slopes where they are planted. The AEC also performs annual noxious weed and invasive species surveys and removal projects and maintains and improves the U.S. Forest Service summer trail system within the ski area’s boundary.
Other strategies Alta uses to ease its impact on the earth is offering free UTA Ski Bus transport to all full season and Ikon passholders; installing 98 solar panels at the resort which, since their installation in 2015, have offset 94 tons of carbon emissions, and installing two electric vehicle charging stations, one at the east end of the Albion Day Lodge and a second in the front row of the Wildcat parking lot.
Over the last few years, community events and partnerships have emerged as an important part of the AEC’s mission. During the 2022 summer season, Alta hosted multiple community volunteer days, birding and wildflower hikes, a town and resort-wide cleanup and, in partnership with TreeUtah, a sapling harvest. The AEC also installed four new trailhead interpretive kiosks to educate and guide visitors and, in conjunction with Salt Lake City’s Tracy Aviary, monitored a dozen songbird and owl nest boxes located in the resort’s higher reaches.
With much of the low-hanging fruit addressed, the AEC is now training its sustainability lens on projects intended to tackle the resort’s long-term climate impact reduction goals. In 2019, Alta worked with its neighbor and fellow Golden Eagle Award finalist, Snowbird, to launch a food waste collection and diversion project. And in 2021, Alta committed to purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) worth an amount that matches 100 percent of the ski area’s electricity use, resulting in estimated savings of 3,567 metric tons of carbon dioxide (MTCO2) annually.
Above and beyond the physical efforts made by the AEC and its volunteers to steward the land Alta occupies and lessen its impacts on the earth, sustainability is a core tenant of Alta’s organizational and employee culture. According to Brandon Ott, director of marketing for Alta Ski Area, the following guiding principle is shared with employees at the beginning of each winter season: “We respect and value the environment that we operate and live in. We are committed to protecting and improving the environment in sustainable ways that are economically viable and are good for our company and community.
For more about Alta’s sustainability efforts and policies and the Alta Environmental Center, visit alta.com/environment.
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